Its become a spring tradition for my partner and I to hike Wolf Trail. It’s one of my favourite trails in Gatineau Park. The trail is 7.9 kilometres and of moderate difficulty. You hike through a beautiful hardwood forest and get some great views of the Ottawa Valley.
If you hike this trail, I recommend reserving three hours to complete it. Of course, this will change with everyone’s fitness level and how often you stop for breaks. If you are hiking in the spring, bring bug spray or a bug jacket as the mosquitoes and black flies can be a nuisance. Keep in mind that ticks carrying Lyme inhabit this area but don’t let them deter you from visiting!
Wolf Trail is in Gatineau Park, Québec. You can access the trail from parking lot 13 off Chemin du Lac Meech. The trail is popularly called Wolf Trail but you won’t find it marked that way. Instead, follow trail 62. It is well marked and forms a loop.
Weekends can get busy and the parking lot fills up quickly. My rule for hiking on weekends is to get up in the early morning and hit the trail before everyone else. You’ll be rewarded as it’s more likely you’ll see wildlife, hear the bird songs, and have the trail to yourself.
Near the beginning of the trail, you’ll face the choice to go right or left. People are of different minds about whether it is best to hike the trail clockwise (right) or counterclockwise (left). Going counterclockwise means you hike the most difficult part of the trail at the beginning. This difficult section includes a steep climb up a rocky area. Going clockwise means you face this difficult section at the end of your hike and you’ll be climbing down.
In the springtime, the trail can have high waters making three sections difficult to cross. This is why I fell in love with the trail in the first place. The high waters make the trail more of a challenge. In early spring, when flooding is bad, you’ll have to do some mental calculations on how to traverse the high waters. It’s important to stick to the trail as closely as possible to minimize your impact. Each year millions visit Gatineau and our combined impacts can be significant.
If you are worried about getting wet, you can visit the trail a bit later in the spring or in the summer when the waters have receded. Alternatively, wear or carry some rubber boots for these sections of the hike. We always hike clockwise because the last stream is the highest and we would rather get wet at the end of the hike than the beginning. If you are unsure and really don’t want to get wet, go counterclockwise so that you can check the water levels before committing yourself to hiking the whole trail.
Wolf Trail is a hike with some elevation. The trail has you climbing up part of the Eardley Escarpment. An escarpment is a steep slope which has formed from a fault or erosion. In this case, the Eardley Escarpment is a fault line that divides the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands. According to the National Capital Commission, the escarpment is 270 metres tall and extends over 30 kilometres. Its southern exposure produces an important microclimate which hosts 145 plant and animal species at risk. Over the years, restrictions have been place on activities in the escarpment to help protect this important ecosystem.
Flora and Fauna
Wolf Trail travels through a hardwood forest. Some of the trees you’ll see are American beech, sugar maple, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, and black ash. You’ll also encounter some white pine.
Spring is an excellent time to see the wildflowers. Especially beautiful are the trilliums that line the trail. You’ll see white trilliums and red trilliums. You can also see pink lady’s slipper, clusters of purple violet, and some pink corydalis. In the wetland areas, there is yellow marsh marigold. In the summer months, I’ve seen goldenrod and aster. All the wildflowers are beautiful but can suffer when they are picked and stepped on. Some, like trillium and pink lady’s slipper, take years to recover from damage. It’s best to tread carefully and not pick flora in protected parks.
Along with wildflowers, there are also edible and medicinal plants like blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, and sensitive fern. We saw an assortment of fungi too, including turkey’s tail and dryad’s saddle.
Gatineau Park is home to several animals. There are white-tailed deer, black bear, wolf, snowshoe hare, red fox, coyote, beaver, and moose. When hiking alone it is wise to carry a bear bell. This will help alert bears to your presence as not to frighten them into a confrontation.
Mahingan and Tawadina Lookouts
The two lookouts on Wolf Trail are Mahingan and Tawadina. Mahingan is the Algonquin word for “wolf.” This is most likely how the trail got its popular name. This lookout has a bench where you can stop and rest and take in the view of the rest of the park.
Tawadina has a beautiful view of the Ottawa Valley. You’ll see farms and homes in the distance. You’ll also get a view of the Ottawa River. It’s my favourite place to rest and have a snack. Tawadina is the Algonquin word for “valley.”
If you live in the Ottawa/Gatineau area, I highly recommend this trail. You’ll get great views and see a lot of the flora native to this area. My advice is to visit mid-spring when the wildflowers are in bloom and the waters have receded but any time of year is great. The trail is also open in winter for those who want to snowshoe it.